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Peasant Intellectuals

Anthropology and History in Tanzania

Steven Feierman

Publication Year: 1990

Scholars who study peasant society now realize that peasants are not passive, but quite capable of acting in their own interests.  But, do coherent political ideas emerge within peasant society or do peasants act in a world where elites define political issues?  Peasant Intellectuals is based on ethnographic research begun in 1966 and includes interviews with hundreds of people from all levels of Tanzanian society.  Steven Feierman provides the history of the struggles to define the most basic issues of public political discourse in the Shambaa-speaking region of Tanzania.  Feierman also shows that peasant society contains a rich body of alternative sources of political language from which future debates will be shaped.

Published by: University of Wisconsin Press


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pp. vii

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pp. xi-xii

This book grew out of an earlier manuscript, now abandoned, on concepts of sovereignty in the precolonial Shambaa kingdom. The book has been written over the past few years in time snatched from other projects and from family and friends. It relies on oral field materials...

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1. Introduction

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pp. 3-45

This book is a history of peasant political discourse and of the peasant intellectuals who create and transmit it. When peasants organize political movements, or when they reflect on collective experience, they speak about how politics can be ordered to bring life rather...

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2. Tribute and Dependency in Late Nineteenth-Century Shambaai

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pp. 46-68

The death of a king remained secret until a new king had been installed in the night near Vugha, the capital. At dawn the war drum Nenkondo sounded to announce the death of a king and the accession of a king. The people of Vugha streamed out to the Council Clear...

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3. Healing the Land and Harming the Land

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pp. 69-93

Kilindi chiefs were not the only rainmakers in precolonial Shambaai. In the kingdom's early years local descent-group leaders held important rain medicines. Throughout the kingdom's history alternative nonroyal practitioners appeared, claiming the power to bring...

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4. Alternative Paths to Social Health in the Precolonial Kingdom

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pp. 94-119

When the people of Vugha stood before their new king to shout of their need for food some of them called out a single word over and over: Nkaviongwa! Nkaviongwa! "It is not mentioned! It is not mentioned!" According to an old court official, the meaning of this was...

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5. Colonial Rule and the Fate of the Intellectuals

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pp. 120-153

When the Germans conquered Shambaai in the 1890s, they seized control over the destiny of kings and chiefs and took for themselves the governmental power to decide who should live and who should die. l But the Germans were not powerful enough, or not willing...

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6. Royal Domination and Peasant Resistance, 1947-1957

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pp. 154-180

The decade following Shebughe Magogo's enforced abdication was a period of major conflict over the government's Usambara Scheme for erosion control. Had the scheme succeeded, it would have created a stratum of wealthier peasants, and it would have increased the...

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7. The Struggle over Erosion Control: Women's Farming and the Politics of Subsistence

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pp. 181-203

The fight against the Usambara Scheme was a battle to preserve the social safety net for poor peasants and to retard the emergence of a fully capitalist agriculture. The defeat of the Usambara Scheme therefore shaped crucial elements in the local economy for the...

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8. Gender, Slavery, and Chiefship: Peasant Attempts to Create an Alternative Discourse

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pp. 204-222

The Usambara Citizens Union, as we have seen, was tied to the politics of rain and the politics of the hated Usambara Scheme in a very peculiar way. This political association won a large number of members in Care and Vugha, places where government chiefs had...

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9. Chiefs and Bureaucrats: Independence and the Fate of the Intellectuals

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pp. 223-244

TANU's electoral victories of 1958-59 and 1960, and national independence which followed so quickly on their trail, led to the steep decline of chiefship throughout Tanganyika and to the dominance of educated functionaries. The years just before and after independence...

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10. Rain in Independent Tanzania: A Drama Remembered but Not Performed

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pp. 245-264

In 1980 people spoke with what seemed like nostalgia about the days when you could be certain about rainmakers, when you could really know that they controlled the rain. The particular nostalgia I am remembering was rarely a longing for past prosperity. The time...


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pp. 267-299

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List of Interviews

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pp. 301-309

The 506 interviews on the following list were all conducted by the author. With the exception of three early interviews conducted in English, occasional lapses by Shambaa-speakers into Swahili, and thirteen texts in the Mbugu language, all the interviews were conducted in Shambaa with no interpreter. Many of the...


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pp. 311-329


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pp. 331-340

E-ISBN-13: 9780299125233
Print-ISBN-13: 9780299125240

Publication Year: 1990